Thursday, June 25, 2009

Have You Mehmet NBA Center Chris Young?

“With the 18th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select Curtis Borchardt.”

What do those words have to do with a San Diego Padre pitcher, the first Turkish player to win an NBA title and a Hall of Fame basketball coach?

If not for one small decision, possibly everything.

As dozens of young men spend tonight waiting and hoping for their dreams to be realized, TigerBlog took the time to dream of a potential scenario that could have happened six years ago: What if Chris Young had chosen basketball over baseball?

Flash back to the 2001-02 NBA season. The Utah Jazz finished 44-38 that season after using NBA immortals Jarron Collins and Greg Ostertag as starting centers. The previous year, Utah started Olden “The Sheriff” Polynice for 79 games at center. (If you don’t get the reference, Google “Sheriff Polynice")

Suffice it to say, Utah head coach Jerry Sloan was looking for a new option. The 2002 Draft (which is the ugly stepsister of the incredibly better 2003 Draft) featured one star big man in Yao Ming, who went No. 1 overall to Houston. By the time it was getting close to Utah’s selection at No. 19, two more forward/centers had been taken: Nene Hilario and Melvin Ely.

You’re not likely to relive this draft on NBA TV anytime soon.

Utah wanted Stanford center Curtis Borchardt so much that it actually dealt its first-round pick and its second-round pick to Orlando to move up one position and secure the, as Wikipedia called him, “injury-prone” Stanford junior.

It is TigerBlog’s belief that Chris Young’s name would have gone there. While Young didn’t have the pure athleticism of Hilario and Ely, he certainly had the game to be a first-round pick after what would have been four years of college basketball. Not only that, his skill set would have been ideal for Jerry Sloan. He could set a pick, pass the ball and draw a defender out with his shooting ability, which included a capable although unspectacular three-point shot. He could flourish in Sloan’s pick-and-roll offense. He wasn’t as tall as Borchart, but at 6-10 with the ability to block shots and rebound, he could certainly play center in the NBA.

But Young chose baseball and didn’t play his final two years of college basketball. And Utah was so thrilled with Borchart that they signed a reserve from the NBA champion Detroit Pistons named Mehmet Okur two years later. For those unfamiliar with the NBA game, Okur has averaged between 14 and 18 points per game in the last four seasons and has started every game he played during that time. He isn’t your typical low-post center; instead, he scores off pick-and-pops and three-point shots – exactly the kind of game that could have suited Young.

Okur signed in 2004, two seasons after Young could have started a career in Utah. Okur was drafted in 2001, so Young wouldn’t have been eligible for his big free agent deal until 2005, but if you play along with TB, the guess here is that Young would have gotten the big deal from Utah in ’05, Okur would have signed somewhere else and Utah would still be an annual contender in the Western Conference.

For comparison’s sake, Okur made $8.5 million in the 08-09 season, while Young currently makes $4.6 million. That being said, a healthy Young could pitch at least one full contract longer than he probably could as an NBA center, so the money might not be far off in the end.

This is not meant as a criticism of the decision, because Young is a proven starting pitcher in the majors. Whether he would have been a proven NBA starting center, well, that’s left for the dreamers.


Daily reader Matt Ciciarelli, a former media relations contact for Princeton baseball, recently reminded TB of this former exchange between Chris Young and a reporter after a heartbreaking NCAA baseball loss in 2000:

Reporter: Chris, in the seventh or eighth inning, you looked to be laboring a little. Did the heat and humidity of Houston get to you a little?
CY: Not really. I grew up in Texas and have played ball in the heat all my life. July and August are normally much warmer than tonight.
Reporter: I know, but you grew up in Dallas.
CY (in his standard patient and polite fashion): So, it's still Texas.

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